James Bond isn’t a nice guy. While he’d be an interesting addition to your holiday cocktail party, he wouldn’t be someone you’d want to befriend. And whatever you do, keep your daughters away from him.
“Spectre” makes it absolutely clear that Bond is best without entanglements. He’s a cool customer when he can kill indiscriminately without concern that his girl of the moment will also die in the process. At one point early in the film, Bond beds down the widow of an assassin. As he ties his tie preparing to make his hasty exit, he casually leaves the beauty (the oldest “Bond” girl Monica Bellucci) a slip of paper with a number to call. Hopefully, his American secret agent colleague will safe-guard her. Probably not. The women in Bond’s life often don’t live long after a 007 romantic encounter.
Starting in Mexico City with an opening sequence that rates as one of the series best, “Spectre” works when the action sequences take their time. Unfortunately, the film’s closing third is rushed and surprisingly dim-witted. The buildup is worth seeing, as the pieces are arranged which teased a smarter resolution.
The key player in this installment should be Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who has a history with Bond and fashions himself into a classic villain in the series. All the set-up elements are sharply developed. Oberhauser is the shadowy leader of a sinister criminal organization cleverly named Spectre. We meet him as his underlings practically publicly discuss their illegal activities. And in a most vicious and bloody manner, a new heavy named Hinx (Dave Bautista) makes his dramatic entrance. Ironically, it’s the quiet and deadly Hinx that towers above (both literally and figuratively) Oberhauser and his whole organization. While his tactics are broad and basic, they work on a gritty, visceral level without requiring much exposition to understand.
Oberhauser is an enigma. Naturally, he has a personal beef with Bond and is determined to kill him, but only on his terms. In a classic Bond scene, Oberhauser uses the most inefficient device to exact his revenge. The killing device is like something out of a horror movie, and its introduced completely out of the blue. This scene, like so much of the film’s closing moments, is frustrating and simplistic. It is as though all the good writing was spent and the filmmaker just wanted to get on with it. While this might give the viewers what they are familiar with, the action packed sequences lack basic logic. The effect is to take Waltz, one of the most gifted actors working today, and dumb him down. It is unfortunate.
Still, there is much to like in “Spectre.” The opening sequence on the streets of Mexico City is absolutely a marvelous combination of cinematography and choreography. It’s a very tight and thrilling scene with tongue-in-cheek humor that harkens back to the Bond audiences fell in love with over 23 prior films. The humor is welcomed after the serious narrative told in “Skyfall.” And Bond’s sexuality is on full display, showcasing his macho prowess that serves as the secret agent’s most effective investigative tool and dangerous weapon. Sleep with Bond and you might just wake up dead.
But making us chuckle with funny one liners and comical exchanges is one thing, insulting our intelligence is another. Oberhauser is no match at all for Silva (Javier Bardem), the villain from “Skyfall.” It is as though the two characters live in two different universes. One would expect more, especially given the place that Oberhauser has in the series.
Perhaps this is the last 007 film for Daniel Craig. And “Spectre” acts as a fitting send-off. The stage is set for another fresh face to take over the character. The question is: what direction will the producers take? My suggestion is to do something radical and cast Idris Elba (of TV’s “Luther’) as Bond. Such an edgy casting choice would inject something unique into this secret agent franchise. If the successes and failures of “Spectre” tell us anything, it is time for the mantle to be passed to another.